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Headlines for Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Kansas news headlines from the Associated Press, as compiled by the KPR news staff.
Kansas Public Radio
Kansas Public Radio

Clean-Up Continues at Kansas Site of Keystone Pipeline Oil Spill

WASHINGTON COUNTY, Kan. (KNS) - Hundreds of barrels-worth of oil have been recovered from the Keystone pipeline break in north-central Kansas. The Canadian company that owns the Keystone pipeline – TC Energy – estimated that 14,000 barrels of oil gushed out last week. The Environmental Protection Agency says more than 400 barrels have been recovered directly from the busted pipeline in Washington County, in north-central Kansas. And more than 2,000 barrels of fluid have been pulled from Mill Creek, although that fluid is a combination of oil and water. The EPA says more than 300 workers are now on site, including those from TC Energy and state, federal and local agencies. A beaver caught up in the oil spill is being treated.

(Additional reporting...)

Canadian Company Starting to Recover Oil from Kansas Pipeline Spill

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP/KPR) — The company operating a pipeline that leaked thousands of barrels of crude oil into a northeastern Kansas creek is recovering at least a small part of it. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says Canada-based TC Energy had recovered almost 2,600 barrels of oil mixed with water from the 14,000-barrel spill. It occurred last week on a creek running through rural pastureland in Washington County, in north-central Kansas. The spill prompted federal regulators to order TC Energy to take corrective action.


Kansas Regulators Concerned About Evergy's Spending Plan

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - The largest electric utility company in Kansas, Evergy, says investments in renewable energy and upgrades to its distribution system are behind a major increase in the company's five-year spending plan. When Evergy filed its annual capital investment plan this year, it raised concerns among state regulators. That was because the plan was $1 billion more than its 2021 plan. In response, the Kansas Corporation Commission ordered Evergy to hold a public workshop explaining the increase in spending. Bruce Akins oversees transmission and distribution at Evergy. He says investments in the electricity grid will make it more efficient and reliable. "As our system is aging, it’s time to increase our investment so that we can reliably serve our customers for decades to come," he said. Stakeholders such as the AARP have expressed concern that Evergy’s spending could increase electricity rates at unmanageable levels. Evergy officials say that the investment plan would keep rate increases below inflationary levels.


Kansas Set to Receive $77 Million from Walgreens, CVS in Opioid Settlement

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - Kansas will get at least $77 million from a settlement over the role pharmacies played in the opioid epidemic. The Kansas News Service reports that the settlements with CVS and Walgreens stem from lawsuits that accused the big companies of contributing to the opioid crisis. The suits argued the companies did not properly oversee how opioids were dispensed at their stores. The money Kansas receives will be used for grants to fight addiction. The money will be available to government organizations and non-profit groups once the settlement is finalized. Attorney General Derek Schmidt says the state is also negotiating opioid settlements with other companies.


Kansas Audit Finds State Agencies, School Districts Vulnerable to Cyber Attacks

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - A Kansas audit found some state agencies and school districts have serious vulnerabilities in their cyber security. A report presented to the Legislative Post Audit Committee this week showed that nearly half of the 21 organizations surveyed did not comply with best practices. Auditor Alex Gard says some of the agencies had no staff to handle IT security work. “Overall, we found significant security issues in many systems with respect to account security, data protection, scanning and patching and risk and security assessments," Gard said. State Representative John Barker said the audit shows the need for improvement. He also said the issue may be caused by the state underpaying IT professionals.


Kansas Legislature May Act to Make Expungement of Criminal Records Easier

TOPEKA, Kan. (KNS) - It would be easier for Kansans to clear their criminal records under proposals before the Kansas Legislature next year. Plans to change the state’s expungement laws have been under consideration for years. The Kansas News Service reports that Kansans can be denied expungements if they have outstanding fines or fees owed to the courts. Michelle Ewert, associate law professor at Washburn University, wants that to change. Expungement cleans someone’s criminal record of certain crimes, which makes it easier to get a job or housing. Ewert says keeping someone from getting a clean record because they owe money can stop them from being productive members of the community. "Allowing people to move forward when they are just trying to do better that this is something that if we can address this issue will have so many positive ripple effects in other parts of people's lives," she said. Lawmakers begin a new legislative session in Topeka in January. Republicans and Democrats are both pushing for this change.


Ex-Johnson County Choir Teacher Admits in Court to Taping Students While They Changed

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KC Star) - A longtime former teacher and choir director at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park pleaded guilty Monday to more than two dozen felonies for secretly filming students as they were undressing. The Kansas City Star reports that 46-year-old Joseph Heidesch entered the guilty plea in Johnson County District Court during a video teleconference hearing Monday afternoon. Following an agreement struck between prosecutors and his defense attorney, Heidesch admitted to 24 counts of privacy invasion and one count of possession of sexually explicit material of a juvenile. Heidesch appeared by video from Georgia as he remains free on bond. Judge Michael P. Joyce ordered him to appear in person for his sentencing hearing. Under the terms of the plea agreement, prosecutors and Heidesch’s lawyer are jointly requesting that he spend nearly 6 years in a Kansas prison. He would also be required to register with the state as a sex offender.

On a hard drive taken as evidence, authorities say hundreds of videos were discovered showing 25 identified victims in various states of undress, including some who were nude. The secret camera was placed in Heidesch’s office, a space students were known to use for changing into clothes for choir practice. Authorities found that the recordings were made between August 2016 and October 2021, when Heidesch was first arrested and charged. Allegations outlined in the criminal case have led to civil lawsuits filed against St. Thomas Aquinas over the past year. Last month, a former student filed a civil petition saying Heidesch, who worked for the school 22 years, would require students to change outfits over and over again under the guise of trying on different clothing sizes — with the aim of having them undress in front of his hidden camera. Heidesch was scheduled on Monday to appear in court for sentencing on April 17.


Kansas AG-Elect Kris Kobach Nominates Primary Rival Tony Mattivi as New KBI Director

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas Attorney General-elect Kris Kobach says he is nominating a former longtime federal prosecutor who also was among his Republican primary opponents to be the Kansas Bureau of Investigation's next director. Kobach has picked Tony Mattivi to replace retiring KBI Director Kirk Thompson. Mattivi was a federal prosecutor for more than 20 years and coordinator of anti-terrorism and homeland security efforts in Kansas when he retired in November 2020. Kobach cited that experience in announcing Mattivi's nomination. Kobach defeated Mattivi and state Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Kellie Warren in the GOP primary in August. Mattivi's appointment would have to be confirmed by the Kansas Senate.

Kobach cited Mattivi's experience as a federal prosecutor. For five years, Mattivi led the team prosecuting Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, accused of orchestrating the USS Cole bombing in Yemen in 2000 that killed 17 sailors. That case has yet to go to trial before a military commission. Mattivi also has worked for the attorney general's office and Shawnee County District attorney's office.


2 Plead to Misdemeanors in Missouri Boarding School Abuse Case

OZARK, Mo. (AP/KPR) — Two men charged with felony counts of abusing students at a private Christian boarding school in Missouri have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors, and the case against a third employee has been dropped. The Kansas City Star reports that 46-year-old Scott Dumar, the medical coordinator at the Agape Boarding School near Stockton, pleaded guilty last week to two misdemeanors and was placed on two years probation. Forty-year-old Everett Graves pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor. The case against Chris McElroy was dropped when the alleged victim didn't show up for the hearing. They were among five staff members charged in September 2021 with low-level felonies after an investigation into accusations by former and current students of widespread abuse at the school.

The Missouri Attorney General's Office had recommended prosecuting 22 staff members with a total of 65 counts on behalf of 36 students. But Cedar County Prosecutor Ty Gaither charged only the five employees. Last year Agape's longtime doctor, David Smock, was charged with several child sex crimes involving students. He has pleaded not guilty.

After hearing testimony from the former students Thursday, Cedar County Associate Circuit Court Judge Thomas Pyle determined Dumar's actions did not warrant felony charges and suggested Dumar plead to the two misdemeanors. If he violates his probation, Dumar could be sent to jail for a year. Pyle made the same determination in allowing Graves, who like Dumar has no prior convictions, to plead guilty to a misdemeanor. A fourth defendant, Trent Hartman, has been bound over for trial on two felony counts of third-degree assault. The preliminary hearing for the fifth staffer, Seth Duncan, is scheduled for next week.

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt's office filed a motion in early September to close Agape, calling it "an immediate health and safety concern" for children living there. Later that month, the Republican speaker of the Missouri House, Rob Vescovo, sent a letter to U.S. Attorney Teresa Moore in Kansas City also urging closure of Agape. In October, Pyle canceled hearings that had been scheduled to consider Schmitt's motion. No new hearings have been scheduled, and the school continues to operate.

Abuse allegations at Agape and a nearby Christian boarding school for girls, Circle of Hope, resulted in a new Missouri law last year that among other things established minimum health and safety requirements for boarding schools, required background checks for employees and required adequate food, clothing and medical care for students. Circle of Hope, in Humansville, closed during an investigation in 2020 and its husband-and-wife co-founders face 99 charges, including child abuse and neglect and sex crimes.


Latest Iowa Bird Flu Cases Push December Total Near 700,000

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Four new cases of bird flu at Iowa turkey farms in the past few days will push the number of birds slaughtered nationwide this month to limit the spread of the virus up to nearly 700,000. The latest cases announced by the Iowa Department of Agriculture only add to the toll of this year's ongoing outbreak that has prompted officials to kill more than 53 million birds in 47 states. Several other bird flu cases have been confirmed this month in Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, Missouri and Colorado. Officials say the virus doesn't represent a significant threat to human health, but the outbreak has contributed to rising prices of eggs, chicken and turkey. Anytime the virus is found, the entire flock is killed to help control the disease.

Iowa officials said the latest cases found since Friday involved 240,000 birds on turkey farms in Sac, Buena Vista, Cherokee and Ida counties all in the northwest corner of the state. Iowa leads all states with nearly 16 million chickens and turkeys slaughtered this year — more than double the next closest state of Nebraska — largely because it is the nation's largest egg producer and egg farms can include millions of chickens.

Several other bird flu cases have been confirmed this month at other turkey farms in Iowa, South Dakota, Minnesota and Missouri. An upland gamebird producer in Colorado also had to slaughter 18,000 birds to limit the spread of the virus. Experts believe the virus that causes bird flu is spread primarily by wild birds as they migrate across the country. The virus spreads easily through droppings or the nasal discharge of an infected bird, which can contaminate dust and soil and be carried onto farms on boots and clothing or on truck tires. Even though wild birds can often carry avian influenza without developing symptoms, the virus has killed a large number of eagles, vultures, ducks and other wild birds.


KPR Still Seeking Kansas Statehouse Bureau Chief to Join Station's Award-Winning News Team

TOPEKA, Kan. (KPR) - Kansas Public Radio, located at the University of Kansas, is looking for a new Kansas Statehouse Bureau Chief to cover all aspects of state government in Topeka for KPR and its statewide reporting partners. This exciting position requires skill, professional experience and curiosity. To apply, log on to: https://employment.ku.edu/staff/23463BR. A review of applications began in October and will continue until a robust pool of qualified applicants is identified.

KU is an EO/AAE. All qualified applicants will receive consideration for employment without regard to race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), age, national origin, disability, genetic information or protected Veteran status.


Kansas City Emergency Rooms at Capacity from "Tripledemic"

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (KCUR) COVID-19, RSV and the flu cases are filling up emergency rooms in the Kansas City metro. Many area hospitals are at capacity, with some even putting beds in the hallways. KCUR Radio reports that all of this is overwhelming nurses already stretched thin. The combination of COVID-19, RSV and the flu has created a “tripledemic” filling up hospital beds across the metro. According to the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), more than 82% of all area hospital beds are currently full. The CDC reports that flu activity in Missouri and Kansas is very high. During the week of November 27 - December 3, Kansas City, Missouri, and surrounding counties had 1,486 laboratory-confirmed flu cases. MARC has reported a 17% increase in COVID cases from the week of November 26. This increase is especially pressing in emergency departments. Children’s Mercy reported last week that its downtown hospital was at capacity due to the strain of respiratory infections. An overflow of emergency care patients and admitted patients needing beds in the emergency department has pushed Saint Luke’s and The University of Kansas Hospital to put patients on beds in the hallways. Dr. Steve Stites, chief medical officer at The University of Kansas Health System, said the hospital has had no choice but to temporarily use hallway beds.


Kansas Pharmacies Running Short of Tamiflu, Antibiotics

WICHITA, Kan. (KNS) - A shortage of drugs, especially those that treat childhood illnesses, is straining Kansas pharmacies. The Kansas News Service reports the shortage is coming just as the flu, RSV and COVID-19 continue to spread across the state. Tamiflu, which treats the flu, is in short supply nationally and in Kansas. So is Amoxicillin, a common antibiotic and one often prescribed to kids with chest infections. Mandilyn Coffman is the pharmacy manager at Dandurand Drugs Wellness in Wichita. She says that’s forcing pharmacists to find workarounds. “So we’re doing a lot of compounding, we’re having to make things that we haven’t had to make in the past," she said. "But we’re also switching up antibiotics as best as we can.” Hospital officials say some people are also finding it harder to locate certain over-the-counter medications, like children’s Tylenol and ibuprofen.


These area headlines are curated by KPR news staffers, including J. Schafer, Laura Lorson, Kaye McIntyre, and Tom Parkinson. Our headlines are generally posted by 10 am weekdays, 11 am weekends. This news summary is made possible by KPR listener-members. Become one today. And follow KPR News on Twitter.